In the middle of the quiet night, all you hear is… teeth grinding?
Teeth grinding, more formally known as bruxism, is more common than you think. According to the Sleep Foundation, 15% of adolescents are thought to suffer from it regularly and 8% of middle-aged adults. Though, it is hard to determine the true prevalence of it because those who grind their teeth at night don’t realize it.
So what exactly is bruxism – and just how serious is it?
What is Bruxism?
Bruxism can happen when you are awake or asleep, though sleep bruxism seems to be the most common. Those who have it grind their teeth and clench their jaw unintentionally. And, this can lead to some serious consequences.
Teeth are not meant to withstand the constant pressure or force that comes with grinding (and clenching). Consider this: When you chew your food, you are using force, but that food is a buffer. At night, when grinding and clenching teeth – there is no buffer.
Symptoms of Teeth Grinding
Parents may notice their child grinding their teeth at night. Adults may have a significant other that notices. For everyone else? It is hard to pinpoint teeth grinding. Thankfully there are some symptoms that could be a good indication.
- Chipped or fractured teeth
- Flattened teeth
- Loose teeth
- Worn tooth enamel, even down to the deep layers
- Tooth pain or sensitivity
- Jaw pain
- Face pain or soreness
- Sleep disruption
- Tired or tight jaw muscles, or locked jaw
Complications of Bruxism
Teeth grinding may sound innocent. Unfortunately, it’s not. If left untreated, it can actually lead to some serious problems for your oral health – and your overall well being.
Some of the most common complications that can occur if the grinding is not addressed are:
- Worn down teeth or abrasion
- Jaw pain
- Damaged chewing surfaces
- Cracked enamel
- Fractured teeth
- Elevated risk of tooth decay
- Loose or shifting teeth
- Tooth loss
- TMJ disorder
Common Causes of Teeth Grinding
There is not one cause of teeth grinding, but rather many different factors that can lead to it. For instance, those under a lot of stress or who have high anxiety can develop bruxism. Other causes are hyperactivity, sleep apnea, and acid reflux.
Lifestyle situations also can lead to bruxism, such as regularly using tobacco, caffeine, alcohol, or illicit drugs. Certain depression and anti-anxiety medications are known to have it as a side effect.
If you have any symptoms of teeth grinding that are not listed here, talk to your dentist as the causes of bruxism can vary.
There are many different ways to treat bruxism depending on what the identifying cause is for it. Typically dentists will fit their patients with an occlusal guard, a.k.a. a night guard that will help keep back teeth separated and your jaw in a resting state as you sleep. This helps to protect the teeth from damage while also helping tense muscles to relax. It stops the grinding and also greatly reduces pain.
Keep in mind that the night guards from your dentist are much more comfortable and effective than the ones you will find at your local drugstore.
Other options your dentist may consider for treatment are: medications to help relax the jaw at night – which can reduce nighttime grinding. Botox injections are used to inhibit movement from the jaw muscles used during grinding. And some find that certain behavioral strategies work, as well.